by Fr. Ayman Kfouf
Great Lent 2012
I- Historical Background
Fasting is not new in the Church. Fasting had its origin in the life of our first parents Adam and Eve. Fasting was the first, and only, law given to Adam and Eve1.
The Old Testament provides an extensive record of fasts kept by the Jews as commanded by God2 and fasts, without specific commandment, in times of distress, grief or when asking for forgiveness3.
In the New Testament, the Lord Himself fasted for forty days4. He commanded His disciples to fast after His ascension5 and prescribed fasting as a spiritual weapon against evil6. After Christ’s ascension, the disciples continued to practice fasting, beside prayer, in every aspect of their apostolic lives7 and they handed down this tradition to their disciples to preserve and practice it after them.
The aforementioned scriptural examples of fasting inspired Christians to imitate them, thus fasting quickly became part of the regular Christian experience. Evidently, the earliest Christian documents show that fasting in the first five centuries took different shapes and passed through various phases of transformation until it evolved into its current form today.
The practice of fasting in the first and second centuries took the shape of complete abstention from food for a day or two8. During the third century, fasting was extended to a full week in preparation for Pascha (Easter). By the fourth century, fasting had transformed in form and length and had evolved from a one week preparation for Pascha into a forty day fast9.